This is from the Nashville Scene and it is a better review of the new album and a better summary of The Features’s music than I am able to come up with. I’ve been struggling with it for a while (I’ve still got a short after-show interview with them from 2007 which I have only shared with a few of the band’s admirers) but thankfully the Nashville Scene did it for me. Enjoy.
The Features, Wilderness [Review + Fresh Track] | Nashville Cream http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashvillecream/archives/2011/07/26/the-features-wilderness-review-fresh-track
Posted by D Patrick Rodgers
The Features are a local institution. A regional one, really. And anyone who’s followed their roughly 15-year arc — from flirtations with major label success to their eventual abandonment at the hands of Universal Records and redemption via Kings of Leon’s imprint Serpents and Snakes — knows they’re the sort of underdogs who won’t ever quit. For that, God bless ‘em. And whether it’s the vibrant carnival pop of 2004’s Exhibit A, 2008’s older-and-wiser Some Kind of Salvation or the unrelenting power-pop of the brand-new Wilderness, it’s a regionally accepted fact that The Features marry remarkably tight, gob-smacking proficiency with a singular style of uncommonly thoughtful pop. As always, frontman Matt Pelham remains the ringmaster of his circus on Wilderness — those longstanding, established carnival-pop charms still intact — guiding each turn with thespian-like dynamics. But more than ever, keyboardist Mark Bond affects the drama of each track, his arsenal of tones and sounds diverse and his playing lithe and emotive, providing an understated backdrop for each of Pelham’s ruminative, gut-spilling paeans. Where Some Kind of Salvation featured a mostly up-tempo stream of indie pop that was punctuated with somewhat delicate moments, Wilderness is an unrelenting onslaught of burning, impassioned fury — “Fats Domino” being the exception, its sleepy doo-wop progression soothing and heartbreaking as Pelham relinquishes his hold on a former love, singing, “You can have everything except my rock ‘n’ roll, my love / Put down Fats Domino.” Wilderness is still as nuanced and gorgeously arranged as any rock ‘n’ roll record can be, but its fervor screams, “We’re still the damn Features, and we still play the smartest, most stirring rock music you’re going to find around these parts.” The same obvious influences that have always permeated The Features’ work remain: Kinksian, British Invasion-y melodies and instrumentation — their most urgent moments channeling Brit-pop giants like Jarvis Cocker — the rich tones and rubbery bass lines of New Wave, plus latter-day indie-rock idiosyncrasies à la Grandaddy. But The Features are at home in their sound — more pathologically themselves than ever, mining their own stylistic predilections and coming up with a record that is boldly honest and packed top-to-bottom with fantastic songs. The jovial bombast of “Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good.” The sinister, foreboding tones of “How It Starts.” “Rambo,” which starts with a monastic, eerie, dirgelike vocal and moves into an insistent barnburner of a blowout. The dichotomy of this lilting, versatile pop paired with Pelham’s characteristically cynical, however accessible, lyrics is perhaps Wilderness’ most striking characteristic. “Golden Comb,” for instance, is the story of a man trying his utmost to satisfy a discontented significant other, finally relenting and exploding into a psychedelic freak-out that would rival the fury of any acid-rocking Haight-Ashbury hangabout. Some Kind of Salvation found Pelham the narrator lamenting the restrictions of adulthood, but Wilderness feels more empowered — Pelham finds a balance between the cynicism of seeing the world for what it is and knowing why it all makes sense. “I can’t explain what I can’t comprehend,” Pelham sings in “Love Is …” as Bond’s dizzying keyboards whiz and whir. “All I know is nothing’s stranger than love is … “ So no, there aren’t any major surprises on Wilderness. Rollum Haas remains one of the most powerful, succinct and understated drummers in modern rock ‘n’ roll music. Haas and bassist Roger Dabbs maintain their symbiotic relationship as a rhythm section, matching one another uncannily on every twist and turn, as Pelham and Bond glide across the surface with their brainy embellishments. But they’re all here, all together in the wilderness and on point as much as they’ve ever been, offering up an album that will at best finally prove to be their long-awaited and much deserved international, top-tier breakthrough. At worst? At worst it’s just one of the best damn rock ‘n’ roll albums you’ll hear all year. Long live The Features.